6:56 AM Sep 28, 1994


Geneva 27 Sep (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- The United States and the European Union appear to be intent on keeping the future World Trade Organization out of the United Nations system and the coordinating functions of the UN under its charter.

At the meeting this week of the Sub-Committee of the WTO Preparatory Committee on Institutional, Procedural and Legal matters, which is considering the question of WTO's relations with other intergovernmental organizations, the European Union and the United States appear to have proposed that there was no need for the WTO to make any arrangements for relationships with the UN.

The WTO, they would appear to have argued, is sui generis, and thus has no need or obligation to have an arrangement with the United Nations.

The Sub-Committee is chaired by Amb. Kesavapani of Singapore.

While some of the participants merely took note of the EU-US view as a suggestion to be conveyed to their authorities for a political decision, some others like Hong Kong reportedly supported it. Several others have not made up their minds, preferring rather the looser reciprocal arrangements that GATT had, during the Uruguay Round, with UNCTAD, WIPO etc.

As one junior diplomat at the meeting put it, "This is not a decision that can be taken by first secretaries attending the subcommittee but one that has to be made at level of ambassadors in the full preparatory committee and the WTO itself".

Another said that the US-EU move was not surprising, but that silence or acquiescence of developing countries was. This was particularly so, since it is an issue on which their own colleagues in New York, taking instructions from their foreign offices, had been pressing for a stronger and more assertive political coordinating role of the UN over the Fund-Bank and the future WTO.

Partly to meet criticism of the developing countries and others of the inadequacies in his first draft, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali is in the process of presenting a revised Agenda for Development to the UN General Assembly. The draft, where he seeks to provide for UN role over these institutions, and for a Economic Security Council, has been reportedly forwarded to the heads of various UN agencies for their comments.

The WTO agreement has a special provision asking for its cooperation with the IMF, World Bank and appropriate agencies, but left relations with the UN and others up in the air.

Developing country diplomats at that time said relations with the UN would be covered by other provisions in Article V. But even in respect of the IMF and the World Bank, they said, they were reluctant to set up a formal link that may result in cross-conditionalities

Art V.1. of the WTO agreement requires that "The General Council shall make appropriate arrangements for effective cooperation with other intergovernmental organizations that have responsibilities related to those of the WTO".

The EU-US view appears to be that the UN has no responsibility related to those of the WTO!

However, this ignores the more fundamental obligations of the UN Charter which binds all its members, and overrides all other obligations and rights, both retrospectively and prospectively.

Article 13 of the UN Charter provides that the UN General Assembly "shall initiate studies and make recommendations for the purpose of... promoting international cooperation in the economic, social,cultural, education and health fields".

The Charter provisions on the ECOSOC and its role deals with the specialized agencies. Quite a bit of this chapter is devoted to this relationship.

Article 57.1 of the Charter requires that "The various specialized agencies, established by intergovernmental agreement and having wide international responsibilities, as defined in their basic instruments, in economic, social, cultural, educational, health and related fields, shall be brought into relationship with the United Nations in accordance with the provisions of Article 63"

Article 58 provides that "The Organization shall make recommendations for the coordination of the policies and activities of the specialized agencies" while Article 59 provides that the UN "shall, where appropriate, initiate negotiations among the states concerned for the creation of any new specialized agencies required for the accomplishment of the purposes set forth in Article 55".

Thus, under the Charter, it was the UN (after it came into being -- the IMF/IBRD and the ILO preceded it) that was to decide what international agencies were required to fulfil the charter's economic and social purposes. It was this power that was invoked to convene the Havana Conference, whose temporary offshoot was the General Agreement and its protocol of provision application, with a secretariat functioning under the cover provided by the UN's ICITO.

Whatever trade ministries and trade officials staffing the GATT and the WTO might feel about the UN, or their colleagues in the foreign offices, the UN Charter obligations are quite clear.

The WTO, whatever the claim, is an offshoot of the GATT -- the joint action of the Contracting Parties that launched the Uruguay Round negotiations, and the same joint action that concluded it.

At a time when developing country member-governments in the UN are trying to bring the Fund and the Bank back under UN accountability and political direction and repair the failure when the UN entered into arrangements with them in 1946-47, the WTO stance by their trade representatives here would be seen as another instance of schizophrenic decision-making in developing countries.

Some developing country delegates feel that a close link with the UN -- which is now dominated and run by the US -- would in fact reduce their ability to influence the processes within the WTO. But not much of this was in evidence during the Uruguay Round, and what little was done was perhaps more due to individual developing country negotiators rather than any coherent policy thinking or action in their capitals.